The spoken world is only a fraction of what the real world is. Words do not make the world, and the world is not ruled with fair words.
I started noticing things when I was a kid. My friends would always listen to me. I remember a specific time growing up when my parents promised to discipline me after I hid their keys. I was around six at that time. It was nothing major, just simply an act of instinctive and rebellious freedom. Being the kid I was, a rush of fear and regret swept over me. With all of my heart, I wanted anything in the world other than to receive a scolding from my parents. I knew the good and bright side to them, but they also exhibited a very mean side just as extreme. My mom’s face was turning shades of scarlet when she found out. I knew that my parents showed very extreme emotions to me, yet their emotions were always very simple: they were either very happy, cheerful and joyful, or angry, cross, and quick tempered. It was never anything sophisticated or deep that lasted for a while. I was still a young kid at the time, yet I knew they were hiding something from me because of my age. I was brought up to be righteous and moral — always doing the “right thing.” As I was dreading the moment of humiliation from my mom — I was imagining a million different ways she could punish me — she suddenly became very calm, the violent red seeping out of her face as fast as it had come. Strange, I thought. It seemed so unnatural of anyone — I had never seen it happen before. Her emotions had been sapped out from her, and her face became a blank canvas — unnaturally white. She was confused and dazed, and instantly dropped the improvised kitchen spoon that she was willingly using to hit me just seconds before.
“Forget it, Jacob,” my mom whispered to herself with a disconcerting and detached tone. Hearing her monotonous voice started a feeling deep down inside of me, a feeling of guilt. I didn’t quite know where it arose from, but I knew it had something to do with the sudden, occasional, and seemingly irrational changes of her behavior. I realized I had a special telepathic ability, but I never told anyone. I could change the intentions of people, but they were very subtle changes. I made people feel like they were undergoing mood swings by themselves.
Having experienced the unsettling influence that I had exerted over people, I needed a relief from my uncontrolled control. I started running. I just felt like it. It’s the first thing someone does to get rid of stress. It’s the first thing someone does when they’re afraid. It’s the first thing someone does when they need to find new control. Just a mile at first. Then two. Then three. I trained myself with a structured and ordered mindset. It began with sneaking out of the house. Then making excuses, then eventually joining the track team when I was able to at my school. I seemed to have never been caught while making my expeditions, yet I had a feeling my parents knew. I would sometimes see the silhouette of a person through the yellow and old curtains of our attic window.
My school stood on the top of a hill. A shabby, old brick facility that lay on the other side of town. That’s what I pictured in my mind, along with some grey, sad clouds dangling from above. During my years, I managed to control my ability. Yet, sometimes, I used it to my advantage, occasionally in ways that made me feel the same old guilt that stabbed me in the stomach and heart whenever I did something out of my righteous boundaries.
One instance I remember clearly. Our history teacher, a severe woman who always wore a tight business suit to school, would find joy in slowly and painfully calling out our grades after each test. I remember vividly after one test in particular I felt like the world was against me. I was dreading the next class, even considering the idea of calling in sick. The day arrived. I came to school. Coming into class, I looked down. The old, rusty-hinged baby blue doors — once coated with a layer of vibrant deep sea blue paint — ruined my attempts of an unnoticeable entrance to class. I nervously stumbled in, hands shaking while clutching my notebook. I peeled my hands off only to reveal ink sticking onto them. My mind broke loose from its calm and collected mode. I made no eye contact with the old lady, yet I felt her eyes staring into me like two lasers. I shuffled my way to the back corner of the classroom directly under the window with the gaping hole — The story goes that it was created by a baseball from the field a couple of blocks down — and looked down silently at my dirty blue skate shoes. The teacher was calling out attendance, her raspy voice finishing up the list. A loud silence ensued — another one of her painful mind games.
She commenced reading off her grade book with her same unforgiving, icy voice. Halfway through the list I envisioned my name another three spots down. With all my heart, I was begging for her not to call out my name. A 70% would probably have been the best grade that I got. The person alphabetically before me in the list — 81%. I envisioned the moment that was seconds away, like I was tied to a track and the train of humility was about to run me over. I played through my mind the scenario. Congrats, you did so well at failing.
Suddenly, she paused for a second. She got up and started coughing. Hobbling over to the door, she looked back at us.
“Stay put and if I catch you or hear reports of you messing around,” she didn’t even have to finish, we were all terrified of her. Moments went by. We saw the cold, squeaky door handles turn. The silhouette of the petite woman. She sat herself back down in the squeaky front desk chair.
“Alright, where did I leave off?” My hands and feet were shaking uncontrollably anticipating the mortifying moment yet to come. The next name she called wasn’t me; however, it was the person right after me on the list. I knew this because I had remembered the list and took it to my heart to do so. I was shocked and confused. I incredulously sighed under my breath. How had it happened? I was relieved at first but hit with a subtle and more gradual anger once I realized that I had used my telepathic abilities once again. I was never called on.
Behind the school, there was a faded red, 200 meter rubber track that had seen better years. I was the second best on track. Weeds and other vegetation were slowly encroaching onto the rubber ground. Paint was slowly eroding and chipping away on the side bars. Track was my strength, and I remember my first practice in particular stuck out to me. The first day was another hot and sizzling summer day. My sweat started to simmer on the red tracks.
“Good luck,” I heard halfheartedly mumbled. Many unconfident stares were exchanged across the starting line. Our coach, an old man of around sixty years old, stared at his stopwatch, fiddling with it like it was some sort of futuristic device. Eventually, after many curses under his breath, coach looked up.
“On your marks.” Even though I hadn’t started running yet, the butterflies in the cage of my stomach had been released. “GO!” The words rang loud and sharp in my ears. I lunged forward at a full, paced speed. First lap down, second lap, third. Nearing the eighth and final lap I was first. A sudden movement to my right caught my attention.
A blur of green and blue, and a sharp red pain to my right ankle. I had been spiked. I looked to see who had whizzed by me. Another kid from our grade had managed to bypass me during the last lap. I looked down at his feet as I wearily threw myself across the finish line, coming in 3rd. He was wearing neon blue spikes, and wore a confident smile on his face. Coach began ordering us and grouping us into different ability level groups. The first guy never returned a glance at me and I did not catch his name throughout the rest of practice.
During my climb up the middle school ladder, meets occurred occasionally, then monthly, then every two weeks, until when I reached eighth grade, they were a weekly occurrence that were just called “practices” with extra hype attached. My weekly appointments with the finish line were expected. I would always qualify for the next race, week after week. Yet, I was never satisfied. Each time I would see the black and white checkered line demarcation and flag, the crowds in the stand cheering with routine enthusiasm, and the kid with the blue spikes in front of me. I was never first.
Our grade was huge, around 300 people. I only knew about a sixth of my whole grade. Everyone knew a handful of people by name. The rest, you would just recognize walking by them in the hallways of school. Then there was the kid with blue spikes. I didn’t know him by name. Every time he passed me by on the track, I could always swear he was wearing a smirk on his face. He was one of those recurring nightmares that you could never remember waking up, but always dread encountering again. Coach was never a help. By some miracle, he was put in charge of running our team. Our team had around twenty people. Around half were actually good. Every practice, coach would only count the first couple, giving up hope on the rest as they slowly finished their 400 meters.
“Remember your times,” coach would always yell as we were ending our sets, “Fifty-nine seconds, one minute one second, one minute two seconds, one minute six seconds, one minute twelve seconds, and the rest of you can ask me after you’re done.” In the end, he would never tell the other times, claiming that he would always forget to keep track. I was always second, the kid was always first. I was losing control of my mind. The kid was faster than me, but every time he turned around after he crossed the finish line to look at the line ahead, at me, I could see a sneer manifest itself on his face and creep away as slowly as it came. I tried to find his intentions, using my secret ability once again. I hostilely glanced at him every time he celebrated under the nose of our coach. I couldn’t seem to get inside his mind. I usually could sense the clockwork gears churning and sparking in someone’s mind. I could find nothing, his mind was locked. I never made my disbelief apparent. Did he possess a counter ability? I never found out. His secretive smug look gave me the feeling that he knew what was happening.
Trying to pry open my enemy’s mind, I began to notice physical setbacks from my mental toil. One day, I was second. The next I was third. Fourth, fifth, until I was barely above the cut for a bright future in high school track. I even tried to brainwash and convince myself that I was not trying hard enough. I felt like I was loosing connection with my own powers, beginning to feel paranoid about whether or not my abilities were really mine or was it fate’s master plan to steal my confidence away when I needed them the most. Fate, I thought to myself, it is uncontrollable for it controls us. Borderline sixth to seventh place in my track team sequence, I told myself that the abilities I had owned most of my life were genuinely mine. Yet it became a lost cause. If they were mine, and if I was a unique anomaly, then why did my powers not work on some people? A war between my sense of righteousness and sportsmanship was beginning. Moral and practical barriers were being broken. I was channeling every last ounce of strength to manipulate the minds of my own teammates who had managed to climb the ladder while I descended it. I was draining up the already dried up reservoir of my mind. A deep feeling that I knew I wasn’t supposed to have grew inside me — I was going to cheat. I began putting in after hours, desperately clinging onto sanity, on the verge of surrendering to its dark, perpetual, and unceasing opposite — unforgiving anarchy. The faded red of the track behind school became the flaming fires of untapped, uncontrollable rage that made me want to do one thing: win. I want to succeed, I would say to myself over and over again, not sure if running endlessly was helping me get better or launching me further into sheer madness.
A week before the race. Daytime swallowed up by its counterpart — pitch blackness. Sweat. Another sleepless night amid the blazing and burning lights that illuminate the track below. No one was in sight. The only sound was the fast pitter-patter of rubber against rubber. I had lost track of my distance. A feeling swept over me, I was being watched. I jerked my head around. For a brief moment, I thought I saw staring someone directly at me, perched on one of the stands on the opposite side of the field. A silhouette of someone. Neon blue caught my eye. I blinked. No one. Was it my mind? My very own conscience turning against me? My mind was torn apart. I had the ability that no one else had — winning seemed so easy. Yet, it all fell out of my hands because of my rage. Finding myself halfway down the straightaway to the finish line and halfway in between the different battling sides of my mind, I started running. It became a stride, running at full force, nearing the finish line. Ten meters away. Five meters. Three meters. Then I sprung forward, rolling over the finish, tumbling into a ball and standing back up. It felt good to break the rules. I felt in control of something new. Not a power that I had, but a sense of rebellious freedom that from deep down inside I knew I had before. I felt satisfied. I felt confident. I felt a revival of my secret ability.
The day of the race. Packed onto the starting line. Fog hung in the air, clinging onto anything and everything. In the distance, I saw a man with the starting gun. A deep breath.
“On your marks… ” the same giddy and jittery feeling. The gunshot ringing in my ears. A split second for my legs to catch up and start moving. The moments following were complete chaos, and then, out in the open. I found myself around tenth. I saw the kid with neon blue spikes ahead of me at first. A series of turns and twists. Shoving people left and right, making my way up the horde. Second place, the pitter patter, blue rubber against the red rubber of the track in front of me, my new found energy flowing through me like a violent torrent, mighty yet uncontrollable. The blue now was accompanied by checkered white and black, and we were blasting through the long straightaway. A force that seemed to come from out of nowhere swept me off my feet, making me sprint uncontrollably. I wanted revenge, and an instinct that seemed so foreign, yet wanted to me. I was still in my trance running faster than I ever had before. For the first time, I was eye to eye with the kid in the blue spikes. We were 200 meters from the finish. We locked eyes. A silent war turned into an ironically timed staring contest — only, I didn’t really know who my opponent was. 150 meters away, my brain not only split in half morally, but also divided by the physical demand at hand. I tried using my power again. Neck to neck, running to the finish line. The wind was materializing into thick, sticky sheets layering onto our face. Blue and I came into the first two places. People kept on tumbling into us. It was chaos. I saw the tag collector as he accepted my tag second.
Then, I got an idea. I focused really hard to get the collector to switch our tags, mine first. Immediately, I was knocked down by the impatiently violent crowd surging behind me. I saw the collector stutter for a second, an incredulous and worried look creeping over his face, lift the tags, delicately switch them, then put them back, stacked, mine first. A deep breath of relief. A cold, dull medal was shoved into my face.
I walked over to the stands. Gingerly looking up at the leaderboards. First. Mixed feelings in my heart flooded me like the butterflies I had experienced at the starting line. I was euphoric yet confused. I looked back at the crowds, and saw one face in particular stare back at me in a haunting way. I looked back at the ground, at the dirty medal in my hand. I hurled it at the ground, with a satisfying and ear piercing cling.